There is something of the bathhouse about these semi-naked figures of Hitler and Mussolini fleeing as Rome is taken in June 1944. The discrepancy between the Allies determined campaign and Mussolini and Hitler relaxing as leisured Romans brings its own measure of disgust.
Awareness of Rome’s long history and of the potential damage to its internationally renowned monuments also lingers in this image. During the war, Rome had been declared an ‘open city’, meaning it should not be bombed. However, the Allies put the German occupying army under severe pressure outside of Rome.
This poster marks an event remote from Soviet action, but crucial to the progress of the war. Rome was liberated on 4 June 1944 by Allied action, led by the Canadians and Americans. Canadian losses were substantial in the battle for Rome and the German army put up a fierce fight. The liberation was prepared for by months of campaigning from the landings at Anzio (February 1944) onwards.
The point here is that the USSR was increasingly aware of its involvement on a world stage.
Hitler and Mussolini are captured in line drawings, suggesting a debt in this poster to caricature and cartoon. Their undignified appearance lampoons the pretentious claims to power in the wake of the ancient Roman senators. Hitler is also animal-like, appearing to flee down the steps on all fours.
Sokolov-Skal’ia , who contributed much both artistically and administratively to the TASS studio, combines different elements in this poster. A formal gesture towards ancient Rome is matched with cartoon, and a deliberately primitive use of colour and line. The monstrous grinning face in the sun against the bluest of blue skies captures both these aspects.
The poster engages the spectator’s delight at the enemy’s discomfort drawing on a moment of visual farce. The details are eye-catching; Mussolini is losing his laurel wreath in his haste, but Hitler still wears his swastika on a bare and scrawny arm. A titillating question is posed: what were Hitler and Mussolini doing when they were so rudely disturbed?
Samuil Marshak provides three brisk stanzas of alternating rhymes. He wittily quotes the cliché that ‘all roads lead to Rome’, but no longer for the enemy. He now argues that Berlin must be the next goal. Image and verse integrate the idea of movement and flight, and an enemy now under hot pursuit. Mussolini, the poster suggests, will not get far, but Hitler must race away like a hunted animal.